Instruction in the Minority Official Language Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021

Release date: August 17, 2022 (preliminary)

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Definitions and concepts

The census collects a wealth of information on the languages and education of Canadians. For the first time, in 2021, five questions on language of instruction were asked on both the short- and long-form census questionnaires. The primary objective of this addition was to obtain the number of children eligible for instruction in the minority official language based on the criteria set out in section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (hereafter “Charter). More specifically, this section gives parents the right to have their children educated in the minority official language of the province or territory in which they reside (see the box “Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”). “Minority official language” means English in Quebec and French in the rest of the country.

Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Minority language educational rights

Language of instruction

23. (1) Citizens of Canada

(a) whose first language learned and still understood is that of the English or French linguistic minority population of the province in which they reside, or

(b) who have received their primary school instruction in Canada in English or French and reside in a province where the language in which they received that instruction is the language of the English or French linguistic minority population of the province,

have the right to have their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in that language in that province.

Continuity of language of instruction

(2) Citizens of Canada of whom any child has received or is receiving primary or secondary school instruction in English or French in Canada, have the right to have all their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in the same language.

Application where numbers warrant

(3) The right of citizens of Canada under subsections (1) and (2) to have their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in the language of the English or French linguistic minority population of a province;

(a) applies wherever in the province the number of children of citizens who have such a right is sufficient to warrant the provision to them out of public funds of minority language instruction; and

(b) includes, where the number of those children so warrants, the right to have them receive that instruction in minority language educational facilities provided out of public funds.

It is worth noting that, in accordance with section 59 of the Constitution Act, 1982, paragraph 23(1)(a) of the Charter, the criterion involving the “first language learned and still understood” of a parent does not apply to Quebec. It can come into force only with authorization from the National Assembly or the Government of Quebec. To date, this authorization has not been granted. As a result, mother tongue is not considered as one of the admissibility criteria in Quebec.

The information collected through the new questions will be used in combination with other existing information from the census, such as first language learned and still understood (hereafter “mother tongue”), family relations between people living in the same household, and place of residence, to obtain the number of children who are eligible for instruction in the minority official language.

Criteria of eligibility

A child whose usual place of residence is in Canada outside Quebec on Census Day is considered eligible for instruction in the minority official language (i.e., French), if at least one of the following criteria is met:

  1. At least one parent of the child has French as a mother tongue.
  2. At least one parent of the child is attending or has attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada during their primary education.
  3. The child is attending or has attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada during their primary or secondary education.
  4. A brother or a sister of the child is attending or has attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada during their primary or secondary education.

A child whose usual place of residence is in Quebec is considered eligible for instruction in the minority official language (i.e., English), if at least one of the following criteria is met:

  1. At least one parent of the child is attending or has attended an English-language school in Canada during their primary education.
  2. The child is attending or has attended an English-language school in Canada during their primary or secondary education.
  3. A brother or a sister of the child is attending or has attended an English-language school in Canada during their primary or secondary education.

Given the census methodology, it is challenging to produce the statistical information that meet all the requirements of the section 23 of the Charter. As outlined in the Minority language educational rights: Technical report on changes for the 2021 Census, these challenges were known at the time when the decision to use the census to enumerate the children eligible for instruction in the minority official language was made. The decision was based on several consultations with experts, which is also outlined in the technical report. It is worth noting that census data are of high quality and are the most comprehensive data in Canada on this subject.

Statistics Canada has operationalized the definition of children eligible for instruction in the minority official languageNote 1 as follows:

  1. Mother tongue

Parents who reported French only or French and another language as their mother tongue are both considered as having French as their mother tongue.

  1. Education in the minority official language

“French immersion” programs are not considered “regular French” programs because they are second language programs offered in English-language schools.

A parent, child, brother or sister is considered to have been schooled in the minority official language in Canada during primary education if they reported at least one year of schooling in the minority official language in Canada at the primary level. Similarly, a child, brother or sister is considered to have been schooled in the minority official language in Canada during secondary education if they reported at least one year of schooling in the minority official language in Canada at the secondary level.

  1. Child, parent, brother and sister

A “child” is defined as an individual younger than 18Note 2 years of age on December 31, 2020.

A “parent” is defined as the self-declared parent of a “child” on the census questionnaire. They may be a biological or adoptive parent. Furthermore, a step-parent or grandparent is not considered a “parent” for the purposes of enumerating children eligible for instruction in the minority official language.

A “brother” or “sister” of a “child” is defined as an individual who shares at least one “parent” in common. Whereas a “child” is limited to an individual aged younger than 18 on December 31, 2020, there is no age restriction on their “brother” or “sister.” In the absence of both parents in the household, individuals who are self-declared as “brothers” or “sisters” of the child on the census questionnaire are considered their “brothers” and “sisters”.Note 3

Figure 1 below illustrates a family that includes step-siblings and step-parents. In this example, there are two individuals who are a couple, Parent 1 and Parent 2. Parent 1 is self-declared as a “parent” of Child 1 and Child 2, and Parent 2 is self-declared as a “parent” of Child 2 and Child 3. In this example, Parent 1 has not self-declared being a “parent” of Child 3, and Parent 2 has not self-declared being a “parent” of Child 1. It is important to highlight that while Child 2 has both of their “parents” within the same household, both Child 1 and Child 3 have only one “parent” present in the household. Considering the fact that all family members relevant to the eligibility criteria envisioned by section 23 of the Charter, i.e. parents, brothers and sisters, may not live in the same household as the child on Census Day, the reader is referred to the Data quality section below to ascertain the impact of this phenomenon on the data related to the children eligible for instruction in the minority official language.

Figure 1 Example of family structure

Description for Figure 1

This figure shows an example of a family structure. Two darker circles are labelled “Parent 1” and “Parent 2,” respectively. Below, there are three lighter circles, labelled “Child 1,” “Child 2” and “Child 3.” Parent 1 is connected to Child 1 and Child 2 with lines, but not to Child 3. Parent 2 is connected to Child 2 and Child 3 with lines, but not to Child 1.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2021.

As such, Child 2 is considered to be “brother” or “sister” of Child 1 and Child 3 because they have at least one parent in common. Child 1 and Child 3 are not considered “brothers” or “sisters.”

Depending on the answers provided by the family members to the mother tongue and language of instruction questions, the eligibility for instruction in the minority official language for the three children within this family may be different. Consider the following four scenarios:

Scenario 1: The family lives in Alberta. Suppose Parent 1 attended a regular French program in a French-language school during primary education for at least one year in Canada, while Parent 2 does not have French as their mother tongue and did not attend a regular French program in a French-language school during primary education for at least one year in Canada. In such a scenario, only children of Parent 1, i.e., Child 1 and Child 2, would be considered eligible for instruction in French.

Scenario 2: The family lives in Quebec. Suppose Child 2, who is 21 years old on December 31, 2020, has completed two years in an English-language secondary school in Canada. As such, assuming they are younger than 18 years on December 31, 2020, both Child 1 and Child 3 (who both have a parent in common with Child 2) would be considered as children eligible for instruction in English since their “brother” Child 2, has been educated in English for at least one year in Canada.

Scenario 3: The family lives in Quebec. The ages of Child 1, Child 2 and Child 3 are 7, 21 and 16 years on December 31, 2020, respectively. Suppose only Child 1 attended an English-language primary school for at least one year in Canada, while Parent 1 and Parent 2 did not attend an English-language school in Canada for at least one year at the primary level. In such a scenario, even though Child 2 is a “brother” of Child 1, Child 2 is not a “child” given that they do not meet the age requirement of being a “child.” Child 3 is not a “sister” of Child 1, since they do not have at least one parent in common. As a result, there is only one “child” (Child 1) who is considered eligible for instruction in the minority official language because this child had been instructed in the minority official language in Canada.

Scenario 4: The family lives in New Brunswick. Suppose Parent 2 has French as their mother tongue, while Parent 1 does not have French as their mother tongue and did not attend a regular French program in a French-language school during primary education for at least one year in Canada. Neither Child 1, nor Child 2, nor Child 3 has been instructed in French—all of them are younger than 18 years old on December 31, 2020. In this scenario, only Child 2 and Child 3 would be considered children eligible for instruction in French because their “parent” has French as their mother tongue.

Careful consideration must be given to understanding these family-related concepts for the purpose of enumerating children eligible for instruction in the minority official language, because they may differ from the usual census concepts relating to families and households for which information is available in Families, Households and Marital Status Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-500-X. The reader may also find it useful to refer to the appendix of the aforementioned reference guide since it relates to “Considerations for examining families and living arrangements with the Census of Population.”

  1. Citizenship

For determining eligibility for instruction in the minority official language, eligibility criteria specified above are applied without considering the citizenship of the parent(s). It is worth noting that the text of section 23 of the Charter refers to the “Citizens of Canada.” A question on citizenship is asked on the long-form questionnaire, which is completed by households in 25% of private dwellings (as opposed to the mother tongue and language of instruction questions, asked to 100% of the population). Supplementary tables using the 25% census sample will account for parents’ Canadian citizenship when applying the eligibility criteria. Titles of these supplementary tables will specify that citizenship is accounted for, to avoid confusion with the other census products, which do not account for parent citizenship.

List of variables

The following variables, as defined in the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2021,Note 4 Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-301-X, have been created with language of instruction data collected during the census on May 11, 2021:

Questions

For the 2021 Census, the 2A short-form questionnaire was used to enumerate all usual residents of 75% of private dwellings. The 2A-L long-form questionnaire, which also includes the questions from the 2A short-form questionnaire, was used to enumerate a 25% sample of private households in Canada. For private households in First Nations communities, Métis settlements, Inuit regions and other remote areas, the 2A-R questionnaire was used to enumerate 100% of the population.

The new questions on language of instruction were added based on the qualitative and quantitative tests conducted in 2018 and 2019, respectively. The results from these tests are summarized in Minority language educational rights: Technical report on changes for the 2021 Census.

Right before the series of questions on language of instruction were asked, the questionnaire included the following preamble:

“The following questions collect information in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to support education programs in English and French in Canada.”

To minimize response burden, only questions on the language of instruction in the minority official language were asked. In other words, respondents living in Quebec were asked if they went to English-language schools during primary or secondary education in Canada, while in the rest of the country, respondents were asked if they did their schooling in French during primary and secondary education in Canada. The electronic questionnaire did not ask Question 12, but automatically brought the respondent to the appropriate questions based on the geography (Quebec or outside Quebec). On the paper questionnaire, Question 12 was used to identify dwellings in Quebec, and its wording was the following:

  1. Is this dwelling located in Quebec?

Households that responded “No” were prompted to answer Question 13 for each person identified on the questionnaire.

  1. Did this person do any of their primary or secondary schooling in French in Canada (including immersion)?

Individuals for whom “Yes (previously or currently attending)” was reported were prompted to answer Question 14:

  1. In which type of program was this schooling in French done?

Individuals for whom either “A regular French program in a French-language school,” “Both types of programs,” or “Other program — specify” was reported were asked Question 15:

  1. For how many years did this person attend a regular French program in a French-language school?

Households that responded “Yes” to Question 12 were prompted to answer Question 16 for each person within the household:

  1. Did this person do any of their primary or secondary schooling in an English-language school in Canada (including immersion)?

Individuals for whom “Yes (previously or currently attending)” was reported were further asked Question 17:

  1. For how many years did this person do their schooling in an English-language school in Canada (including immersion)?

For mother tongue (Question 10), please refer to Languages Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-500-X.

For citizenship questions, please refer to Place of Birth, Generation Status, Citizenship and Immigration Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-500-X.

For questions about family, please refer to Families, Households and Marital Status Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-500-X.

To assist people whose first language is neither English nor French, the census questions were translated into 25 other languages, including 13 Indigenous languages. Respondents could obtain the census questions in any of these other languages and alternative formats by calling the Census Help Line. However, the census questionnaire was printed only in English and French and had to be completed in either English or French.

More information on the wording and format of the 2021 Census language of instruction questions and the instructions that were provided to respondents for those questions can be found in the 2021 Census long-form and short-form questionnaires Form 2A-L and Form 2A, and the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-301-X.

Classifications

There are three classifications related to language of instruction data.

Eligibility for instruction in the minority official language

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Not applicable (18 years and over)

Eligibility criteria for instruction in the minority official language in Canada—detailed classification

  1. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent has French as their mother tongue
  2. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent attended a regular French program in a French-language school at the primary level in Canada
  3. In Canada outside Quebec, the child attended a regular French program in a French-language school at the primary or secondary level in Canada
  4. In Canada outside Quebec, a brother or sister of the child attended a regular French program in a French-language school at the primary or secondary level in Canada
  5. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent and the child attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  6. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent and one brother or sister of the child attended a regular French program in French-language school in Canada
  7. In Canada outside Quebec, the child and a brother or sister attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  8. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent, the child and a brother or sister attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  9. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent has French as their mother tongue and at least one parent attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  10. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent has French as their mother tongue and the child attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  11. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent has French as their mother tongue and a brother or sister of the child attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  12. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent has French as their mother tongue and at least one parent and the child attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  13. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent has French as their mother tongue and at least one parent and one brother or sister of the child attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  14. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent has French as their mother tongue and the child and a brother or sister attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  15. In Canada outside Quebec, at least one parent has French as their mother tongue and at least one parent, the child and a sibling attended a regular French program in a French-language school in Canada
  16. In Quebec, at least one parent attended an English primary school in Canada
  17. In Quebec, the child attended an English primary or secondary school in Canada
  18. In Quebec, a brother or sister of the child attended an English primary or secondary school in Canada
  19. In Quebec, at least one parent and the child attended an English-language school in Canada
  20. In Quebec, at least one parent and one brother or sister of the child attended an English-language school in Canada
  21. In Quebec, the child and a brother or sister attended an English-language school in Canada
  22. In Quebec, at least one parent, the child and a brother or sister attended an English-language school in Canada
  23. Not eligible
  24. Not applicable (18 years and over)

For brevity, the descriptions of criteria do not always mention all the details. Any mention of “attended” should be constructed to include “is attending” also. Parents have to have at least one year of schooling in the minority official language during primary education in Canada. Child, brother or sister has to have at least one year of schooling in the minority official language during either primary or secondary education in Canada.

Type of French program attended

  1. Regular French program in a French-language school
  2. French immersion program in an English-language school
  3. Both types of programs
  4. Did not attend a French program
  5. Not applicable (population of Quebec)

Concepts over time

This is the first time that questions on the language of instruction were asked on the census. Moreover, it is also the first time that census data will provide the number of children who are eligible for instruction in the minority official language using more than one criterion. Historically, three data sources have been used to partially estimate this population.

First, the mother tongue of parents in the census has been used historically to enumerate children eligible for instruction in the minority official language. This provided partial enumeration of children eligible for instruction in the minority official language, given that language of instruction questions were not asked before 2021. Also, the mother tongue criterion does not apply in Quebec.

The Elementary-Secondary Education Survey (ESES) provides data annually on children who are currently enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. In addition to aggregated information on age, sex and grade, this data source includes information on the type of language program (regular second language programs, French immersion programs and first official language programs for linguistic minorities). Information from this data source differs from the census because it provides the number of current registrations to minority official language programs, while the census provides the number of children eligible for such programs.

The Survey on the Vitality of Official-Language Minorities (SVOLM), conducted in 2006 to fill data gaps on the official language minority population, is another rich source of information, including an estimate of the number of children eligible for instruction in the official language minority among children whose parents were part of the official language minority population outside Quebec. The SVOLM collected demographic, linguistic and sociocultural information about the respondent and in some cases the child (if the parent belonging to the official language minority was the person who completed the questionnaire).

In May 2022, the collection of the second iteration of the SVOLM (Survey on the Official Language Minority Population (SOLMP)) was launched. The data collected from this survey include a sample of children eligible for instruction in the minority official language. The survey asks questions on several topics related to the official language minority population, including language of instruction, reasons why parents chose or did not choose minority official language instruction programs and intentions to register children in these programs.

Collection and processing methods

The COVID-19 pandemic emerged in Canada in early 2020 and affected all steps of the 2021 Census process, from data collection to dissemination. Please refer to the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X, for more detailed information on this topic.

For general information on the overall content, collection, design, processing and data quality for the 2021 Census of Population, please see the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X.

Data quality

Content to be updated on official release date (November 30, 2022)

Comparability

Content to be updated on official release date (November 30, 2022)


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